Top Tips for Houseplant Care from the Missouri Botanical Garden

South window plant display in the Kemper Center Building for Home Gardening. Photo by Tom Incrocci.

Houseplants can add a lovely decorative touch to any home, can improve your indoor air quality, and for many have positive effects on mental health. Whether you’re a novice or an expert, the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening, the largest nonprofit gardening help center in North America, offers gardening help for all levels on both indoor and outdoor plant care. Our experts shared the following basic tips for houseplant care: 

ZZ plant, Zamioculcas zamiifolia. Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder.

Beginner Houseplants

Perhaps you’ve just moved into your own place or you’ve just decided the time is right to become a plant parent. If you’re just starting out, try these basic tips for sure-fired success with your new plants.

  • Know your plant. Knowing what kind of plant you have is the first step to determining its proper care. When you purchase the plant, ask for its name and a care sheet, if they have one available. You can find more information about specific plants in these fact sheets from the Center for home Gardening. If you don’t know what kind of plant you have, or if you have a specific question about it, email for help.  
  • Look for light. Houseplants near a window will naturally grow toward the light. Give your plants a quarter turn every week so they grow evenly on all sides. 
  • Watch the water. Make sure all your houseplants are placed in pots that have drainage holes. After watering, dump out any excess water that accumulated in the drip tray or cache pot. 
  • For a full rundown of houseplant care 101, check out this information on Indoor Plant Care from the Center for Home Gardening.  

Recommended beginner houseplants:

Intermediate Houseplants

Jade plant, Crassula ovata. Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s PlantFinder.

If you’ve mastered the basics and you’re ready to take your plant collection to the next level, try these tips to keep your plants growing healthily. 

Care tips

  • Add more light. Use grow lights to provide plants with additional light if needed. Plants that need more light will often have leggy growth and small leaves with poor coloration. 
  • Try pruning and repotting. Spring is the best time to prune and repot your houseplants. Cuttings taken at this time also have the highest chance of successfully rooting. 
  • Find the perfect pots. Terra cotta pots are the best, all-around choice for most houseplants. They are more affordable and lighter weight than glazed ceramic pots, and their porous texture allows air to permeate to the roots. 

Recommended intermediate houseplants:

Gardenia, Gardenia jasminoides getting ready to bloom. Photo by Tom Incrocci.

Expert houseplant

Your houseplant collection has grown pretty large, but there’s always opportunity to grow your skills. Try some of these new tactics as you hone your houseplant skills. 

Care tips:

  • Change the water source. Fresh rainwater is excellent for houseplants. Its slight acidity and lack of dissolved salts and minerals are preferred by most tropical houseplants. 
  • Try terrariums. Many popular houseplants such as begonias, peperomias, and philodendrons thrive in humid environments. Grow these plants in terrariums or a small, indoor greenhouse structures. Just be sure to provide plenty of ventilation as well, so that fungal infections are not encouraged. 
    You can find more tips on terrariums here. 
  • Be careful with new plants. Quarantine new plants before adding them to your collection. Keep them in a separate room away from your other plants for 2-4 weeks and monitor closely for any pest activity or signs of disease. 
  • Recommended beginner houseplants:

Recommended expert houseplants:

Need more plant help? Check out these resources available from the Center for Home Gardening:

Plant Doctor Desk
(Ask your plant questions in person!)
Hours: Tuesday – Friday, 9 a.m.–3 p.m.
Location: Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden

Horticulture Answer Service (Phone and E-mail)
Hours: Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – noon
Phone: 314-577-5143

Online information
Additional tips, care sheets and more available at

Justine Kandra, Horticulturist
Catherine Martin, Public Information Officer

Leave a Reply